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San Francisco Public Library/Dept. of Public Health Partnership

San Francisco Public Library

Problem Statement

The San Francisco Main Library is located in the Civic Center, which is bordered to the north and south by low income neighborhoods where residents cope with chronic homelessness, drug abuse, mental health issues and a perceived lack of city services. As the Library serves as a home for many of these residents, providing shelter, computers and restrooms, Library staff became increasingly challenged with behavioral and social service issues beyond the scope of their jobs and training. These issues also were disruptive to the comfort, use and enjoyment of the Library by other patrons. While a recently revised behavior policy, “Guidelines for Library Use,” and “Uniform Staff Procedures for Enforcement of Guidelines for Library Use” were helpful, significant problems persisted.


A partnership was developed with the city’s Department of Public Health and the SFFirst unit (San Francisco Full-Integrated Recovery Services Team), which initially provided Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) case managers in the Library and sweeps on the outside perimeter. Since January 2009 a full-time social worker has been housed at the Library, along with health & safety associates (vocational rehabilitation program) to monitor bathrooms and offer social service information to peers. The social worker engages with patrons-in-need identified by Library service staff, Library security, and others she has encountered on her hourly rounds of the 6 floors of the building, where patrons are assessed for services and referred appropriately. The Library’s patrons are given 1st priority for stabilization rooms and other forms of housing as a result of this partnership. The social worker and the SFFirst director, a psychiatrist, also provide training for staff, such as focus groups dealing with limit setting and stress management, as well as larger group presentations to help staff understand and empathize with homelessness and mental illness, including screening Hollywood films which deal with these issues, such as the Soloist & Fatal Attraction.


Several performance measures were established to measure the impact of the partnership:

  • Reduction in the number of incidents within the Main Library, including official suspensions, assaults, and thefts;
  • Reduction in the severity of the incidents, including number of drug-related incidents as a result of increased bathroom checks by Security and interventions by the social worker;
  • Increased satisfaction of staff on how incidents in Main Library are being handled: 92.7% of staff feel informed about resources available to staff, 94.8% of staff feel more or as safe since the SFPL/DPH partnership began, 63.2% of staff feel there is some or much improvement in the way incidents are handled.
  • A San Francisco Chronicle story about this partnership, further disseminated by Associated Press, led to over 300 national and international news hits, resulting in many libraries calling for more information on how to start as these social issues are prevalent in many places.